U.S. outfielders bring five tools

U.S. outfielders bring five tools

It's often in the outfield where one looks for some great five-tool talents. And the U.S. group of outfielders for the July 10 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game is not lacking in the toolbox department.

Delmon Young will have to tell his four U.S. cohorts what the Futures experience is all about as the only repeat participant. Young went to Houston a year ago, though it's likely that Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Hermida, Lastings Milledge and Chris Young will figure out a way to hold their own. Here's a look at the American group:

Jeff Francoeur, OF, Mississippi (Double-A, Atlanta)
Francoeur is playing at Double-A at age 21 and playing well. An outstanding outfielder defensively, Francoeur is starting to come into his power. He hit 18 homers last year as a career high and already has 13 this year.

The first-round pick of the 2002 draft has also shown more aplomb on the basepaths. After swiping 11 bases in 17 attempts in 2004, he's gone 13-for-17 over the course of this season (thus, the five tools).

Jeremy Hermida, OF, Carolina (Double-A, Florida)
Like Francoeur, Hermida was a first-round pick out of high school in 2002. And like his fellow U.S. team member, he's playing at Double-A at age 21 while coming into his power. His 14 homers are already a career high, and his .525 slugging would also set a career mark.

"He's been good at every level, and he's been showing more power at every level," Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Jim Fleming said. "He's always had a very stylish, very efficient swing, but now he's adding power. I think he's stopped growing, but he keeps getting stronger. And he's a very selective hitter, so he gets good pitches."

He, too, has shown very good instincts on the basepaths. Despite not having blazing speed, Hermida has gone 19-for-20 in stolen-base attempts this year.

"He's the complete player," Fleming said. "He's excellent defensively, has a great arm, runs well. ... He's got the whole package."

Lastings Milledge, OF, St. Lucie (Class A Advanced, New York Mets)
At age 20, Milledge brings down the average age of the U.S. outfield corps a notch. The Mets haven't been this excited about an outfield prospect since that Strawberry fellow came up.

And it's with good reason. Milledge has shown the ability to do a little of everything, as evidenced by his 15 homers and 26 steals in his first full season last year.

The power hasn't come yet this year -- perhaps partly because he's playing in the pitching-friendly Florida State League, but he's still hitting around .300 with an OBP over .380. He's also swiped 17 bags (albeit with 13 caught stealing) for St. Lucie. After starting the year by hitting .216 in April, he's made adjustments and hit .329 in May and .306 in June.

Chris Young, OF, Birmingham (Double-A, Chicago White Sox)
Perhaps the least known in this group, and the oldest at the advanced age of 22, Young has just as much all-around talent. He's the only non-first rounder here, taken in the 16th round by the White Sox in 2001 and he's been moving his way up slowly since.

Young played last year in the South Atlantic League and broke out with 24 homers and 31 steals. He also struck out 145 times and hit .262, showing he still had some work to do in smoothing out the rough edges.

A bit surprisingly, the Sox challenged Young by skipping him a level up to Double-A this year. Young has responded with the same power-speed combination he showed in 2004. He had 17 homers and 15 steals in his first 80 games for the Barons. He's still striking out -- 87 K's at last count -- to keep his average at .265, but he's also drawn 41 walks for a respectable .359 OBP.

Delmon Young, OF, Montgomery (Double-A, Tampa Bay)
Considering his organization's penchant for pushing top prospects up the ladder quickly, some were surprised that Young spent the entire year in the South Atlantic League last year.

What impressed the Rays most about that season, however, was that after a slow start, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft made great adjustments and finished the season with fairly gaudy numbers.

He's putting those numbers to shame this year. And after that "slow" season, the Rays have him on the fast track. He won't turn 20 until September, but he's leapt up to Double-A and is handling the Southern League like a veteran.

In just his second full season of pro ball, Young was hitting .332 with 19 homers, 70 RBIs and 24 steals (already besting his season total from 2004). He's in the top five in the Southern League in seven offensive categories. There's a reason why people keep asking when he's going to make it to Tampa, though the Rays want to be sure not to rush him...too much.

"We're concerned with him continuing to improve every day," Devil Rays director of scouting and player development Cam Bonifay said. "He's still learning what it takes to play every day at this level. It's a tremendous accomplisment to be such a young player and have such production at the Double-A level.

"You usually don't do that [jump a player a level] unless you feel you have a special young player. I think he is that, without question."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.